A pioneer in the genre of women’s music, Margie Adam built her career performing at women’s music festivals and women’s political events. A skilled pianist, singer, and songwriter, she combines wit, romance, and political activism in her performances. Founder of Pleiades Records, Adam has released all her own albums. The 1977 live performance of her song “We Shall Go Forth!” at the National Women’s Conference in Houston was entered into the archives of the Division of Political History at the Smithsonian Institution. After a seven-year hiatus from her music career, Adam began writing songs again in 1990 and subsequently released several more albums.
Born on February 7, 1949, in Lompoc, California, Adam began playing piano as a young child. In 1973 she performed publicly for the first time at feminist Kate Millet’s women’s music festival at Sacramento State University. The performance was an open-microphone show, and Adam was intimidated by the situation. “I remember thinking… I’m not going to make it through this,” Adam told author Bonnie Morris in Eden Built by Eves. “Then, of course, I watched the women in the audience support the women who went before me, and I listened to the music, and I thought, I can do this. I don’t know how to use a microphone, I’ve never performed in public before, but I can do this.”
The following year, Adam attended the first National Women’s Music Festival in Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. Since she was an unknown artist, she performed during the first part of the week. When the Saturday headliners—Roberta Flack and Yoko Ono—canceled, the festival organizers appealed to the unknown performers to save the show. Adam joined Chris Williamson, Meg Christian, and Vicki Randle onstage for the performance, permanently winning a place for herself among the founders of a new genre of music. Women’s music was a political statement, forwarding the politics of feminism, giving a voice to lesbians, and promoting women within the recording industry. Adam founded her own record label, Pleiades Records, in order to release her 1976 debut album, Margie Adam. Song-writer. Through her own record company Adam hoped to break the man-centered cycle in the music industry, producing women artists and helping other women learn about the recording business. She followed up the release of her album with a 50-city promotional tour, which culminated at the National Women’s Conference in Houston in 1977. There, Adam led 10,000 women in a moving three-part harmony of her song “We Shall Go Forth!” This performance was entered into the archives of the Smithsonian’s Division of Political History in 1980.
Building a grassroots following, Adam performed on college campuses, in theatres and clubs, at festivals and conventions of major women’s organizations. In 1980 she embarked on a national tour called Margie Adam: On the Road for Women’s Rights. Her tour was sponsored by the National Women’s Political Caucus to raise money for feminist candidates. The Christian Science Monitor wrote: “Her music has been described as both funny and poignant, with balanced lyrics running the gamut from soft ballads to tongue-in-cheek blues—a highly listenable blend of folk, pop, and classical music.” Adam released an instrumental album, Naked Keys, in 1980. The album was a critical and commercial success, groundbreaking in that it helped other artists realize the appeal of instrumental albums, paving the way for future New Age albums. Adam’s release of her 1982 live album, We Shall Go Forth!, coincided with the July 1st ratification deadline for the Equal Rights Amendment. She marked the day by performing at Constitution Hall in concert with a cappella group Sweet Honey in the Rock.
Holly Near, Chris Williamson, Meg Christian, and Adam were known as the Big Four of women’s music by the mid-1980s. “[They] consistently packed concert halls throughout the country, sold millions of independently released records,” wrote the Boston Globe in an article provided in Pleiades Records press materials. ‘Their concerts became high-energy town hall meetings for the feminist movement.” In 1983 Adam collaborated with other women instrumentalists to create her fourth album, Here Is a Love Song, a collection of her love songs.
As she reached the height of her career in 1984, Adam dropped out of the music business. The movement that had propelled women’s music into its own genre had gotten quieter during the mid-1980s. Then, the sagging economy put many producers of women’s music out of
Born on February 7, 1949, in Lompoc, CA.
Performed at Kate Millet’s women’s musical festival at Sacramento State University, 1973; started her own record company, Pleiades Records, and released debut album, Margie Adam. Songwriter, 1976; released instrumental album, Naked Keys, 1980; released live album, We Shall Go Forth!, 1982; released Here Is a Love Song, 1983; returned from seven-year hiatus with The Best of Margie Adam, 1990; released second instrumental album, Soon and Again, 1996; released Avalon, 2001.
Awards: National Women’s Music Festival, Lifetime Achievement in Women’s Music Award, 1997.
Addresses: Record company —Pleiades Records, P.O. Box 7217, Berkeley, CA 94707. Website —Margie Adam Official Website: http://www.margieadam.com.
business. Adam found her co-performers often didn’t identify with feminist activism. Despite all these factors, Adam has said that her reasons for quitting were personal. She described her change in lifestyle to the Chicago Tribune in an article provided in Pleiades Records press materials: “I calmed down during my time off. I bought a couch, I had friends over. I studied piano and voice. I fell in love and broke up. I went back to school and got hired as the volunteer coordinator for the National Council on Alcoholism’s San Francisco office. And then I took off, put myself in front of a piano in a cabin surrounded by redwoods, and I started writing again.” She referred to this time as a “Radical’s Sabbatical.” Her hiatus from music lasted seven years, and Adam was as surprised as anyone when she realized she wanted to return.
Olivia Records released The Best of Margie Adam in 1990; the album was reissued on Adam’s Pleiades label five years later. Adam began performing publicly again in 1991-92. She noticed a change in the audience. “I found myself singing into the faces of an audience that seemed to be asleep, no longer politically turned-on,” she told Morris. “Many women who came out to see me in 1992-93 hadn’t been to a woman-identified event in eight years.” Adam followed up with Another Place in 1993, an album that the All Music Guide called “a lovely collection of songs, chock-full of her trademark wry and gentle observations on the ways of the heart. Her voice has matured and deepened, and by bringing together some of today’s best women’s music artists (old and new), she breathes a new, steady life into the scene.” In 1996 Adam released her second instrumental album, Soon and Again, produced by Barbara Higbie. At the 22nd National Women’s Musical Festival in 1997, she received a Lifetime Achievement in Women’s Music Award.
Adam’s songs were also heard outside the world of women’s music. Selections from Naked Keys and Soon and Again were often used as interludes on National Public Radio. Her songs were covered by a variety of artists, including Peter, Paul and Mary and Dusty Springfield. Upon the posthumous release of Springfield’s recording of one of Adam’s songs, Adam was quoted in Universal Records press materials, which were included in Pleiades Records publicity materials: “When Dusty Springfield decided to record my song ‘Beautiful Soul’ in 1974, her brave act of self-expression inspired a young lesbian songwriter to keep on writing and eventually to risk performing and recording music about women loving women….”
With the 2001 release of Avalon, Adam’s eighth album on Pleiades, she reconfirmed her commitment to activism. Adam and collaborator Kerry Lobel, the former National Gay and Lesbian Task Force leader, launched a campaign called “The Avalon Project” in conjunction with her tour. The project promoted “community conversations” that were intended to spotlight progressive organizations, especially those vital to the gay and feminist movements. Adam planned on donating a portion of her CD sales to these local organizations.
Little of Adam’s inspiration for her career came from what she heard on mainstream radio; instead she has found encouragement in the music of lesser-known but groundbreaking women artists. “This has always been true for me as a lesbian, a feminist, and a progressive,” she told Harriet Schwartz of the Washington Blade. “I don’t usually hear my life on the radio. I am committed to holding a place in the world for music for women who are self-identified, women-identified, and women-loving.” Still, Adam acknowledged her influence on the music world. “We built the first stage that Melissa [Etheridge], The Butchies, Ani DiFranco, and others stand on today,” Adam continued to Schwartz. “Whether they call it ‘women’s music’ doesn’t matter to me. To have women-empowered music out there taking the space it does—I’m thrilled.”
Margie Adam. Songwriter., Pleiades, 1976.
Naked Keys, Pleiades, 1980.
We Shall Go Forth!, Pleiades, 1982.
Here Is a Love Song, Pleiades, 1983.
The Best of Margie Adam, Olivia, 1990; reissued, Pleiades, 1995.
Another Place, Pleiades, 1993.
Soon and Again, Pleiades, 1996.
Avalon, Pleiades, 2001.
Erlewine, Michael and Vladimir Bogdanov, Chris Woodstra, and Stephen Thomas Erlewine, editors, All Music Guide, Miller Freeman Books, 1997.
Morris, Bonnie J., Eden Built by Eves: The Culture of Women’s Music Festivals, Alyson Books, 1999.
Christian Science Monitor, September 22, 1980, p. 19. Washington Blade, June 8, 2001.
Additional information was obtained from Pleiades Records publicity materials, 2002.
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